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Ohio church’s message: Families matter to God

CINCINNATI — Look around you Sunday morning.
Is there a mom drowning in a sea of credit-card debt? A dad who can’t seem to quit clicking Internet porn? A teen dealing with a hangover or worried about a potential pregnancy?
In the 21st century, the Christian family finds itself under constant siege: Sexual images. Financial debt. Addictions. Busyness. A digital culture that devotes more attention to texting than the sacred text.
What to do?
With the theme “Families Matter,” a recent area-wide conference on marriage and family tackled modern America’s uncomfortable realities. The Northeast Church of Christ, a 500-member congregation just off Interstate 275, about six miles south of Kings Island theme park, hosted the event.
“If we’re going to rescue our communities, stop the violence, stop the drug dealing, stop the porn, stop the marital infidelity … you start in the home,” Clyde Gray, longtime television news anchor and member of the Gray Road Church of Christ in Cincinnati, said in a Friday night keynote speech.
The newsman related lessons “ripped from the headlines” that he delivers each night on Cincinnati’s ABC affiliate.
Lead by example, Gray urged parents: Don’t honk and swear at other drivers. Study the Bible at home. Go to church often. Eat dinner together as a family.
“Get your kids around the dinner table, and you’ll make them less likely to use drugs,” he said, citing research he did on the job. “Their grades will improve. Kids will talk more. … Put that meatloaf, mashed potatoes and peas in them, and you will be amazed at what comes out of them!”
Churches must train fathers to serve as spiritual leaders in the home and equip parents to bring up godly children, said Cleavon Matthews, senior minister of the Northwest Church of Christ in Trotwood, Ohio.
“Unfortunately, children don’t come with a manual,” Matthews said in a Saturday keynote presentation. “In our world, you need a license to drive, a license to fish, but you don’t have to have a license to have a kid.”

At the Northeast church, longtime pulpit minister Grady Smith and church elders determined 20-plus years ago that families would be key to growth.
At the time, attendance ranged between 100 and 150, elder Gene Smethers said. Now, two Sunday morning assemblies draw a combined 450 to 500 worshipers.
“Parents will go where they feel they can do the best for their kids,” Smethers said. “So that has been our philosophy.”
From building intimacy in relationships to making nutrition fun — from teen challenges to stages of marriage — the conference focused on the importance of strong families to the community, the church and God.
Inspired in part by Christian Chronicle reports on declining church membership, the conference involved a diverse group of churches — black and white, urban and suburban, said Tim Tripp, Northeast’s family minister.
The 2009 edition of Churches of Christ in the United States, published by 21st Century Christian, identified 12,629 a cappella Churches of Christ with 1,578,281 adherents.
According to the 2009 directory, the number of men, women and children in the pews has dipped to the lowest level since a comprehensive effort to count members began in 1980.
“We believe that Christian families are not being equipped in the modern era to raise kids of faith in a secular culture,” said Tripp, a graduate of Harding University in Searcy, Ark., who served 10 years as Northeast’s youth minister before transitioning to the family minister role five years ago. “The aim of this conference  is to convince all who come that families matter.”
That’s a message that seems to be gaining resonance in Churches of Christ, said Robert Oglesby, director of the Center for Youth and Family Ministry at Abilene Christian University in Texas.
“There is a growing interest in searching for a way for churches and families to work together in a common mission,” Oglesby said.
While the number of full-time family ministers in Churches of Christ probably could be counted on one or two hands, some churches are retooling youth ministries to promote more emphasis on families, he said.
Brad Montague, a former youth minister, leads a new program at Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tenn., called “GO!” It’s designed to serve as a resource to young people and youth workers in churches across the nation.
When Montague recently asked ministers their advice for reaching young people, he said, he was surprised and excited that “almost all of them came back with a message about how to involve the entire family.”
“It looks like churches are realizing the importance of partnering with the families,” Montague said. “I think this is a step to some truly powerful things to begin happening.”
But while many churches talk about family ministry, Oglesby said, most struggle with how to accomplish it.
“Family ministry is a mindset that should permeate all aspects of a church,” he said. “It is having parents-and-teen combined classes. It is involving your children in the worship assemblies. It is using teenagers as participants in your worship even though they are not professional.
“It is banquets that put teens and senior members together in dialogue about faith. It is celebrating births with young couples. It is celebrating couples who have been married 50 years or more.”
This past summer, the Boone Center for the Family at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., hosted the Family of Faith Conference.
Grant Goodvin, an elder at the Greenwich Road Church of Christ in Wichita, Kan., and an expert in legacy planning for family businesses, participated in the Pepperdine event.
“Experience has taught me that the main problem facing congregations is that families tend to be private, almost secretive,” Goodvin said. “The danger of this inclination toward privacy is that family members are reluctant to pull back the curtain that would reveal struggles in transferring core biblical values.”
Through preventative and therapeutic means, congregations such as Northeast help families pull back the curtain and build strong faith across generations, leaders said.
At the Westgate Church of Christ in Dothan, Ala., a comprehensive approach to families includes both premarital counseling and therapy for married members dealing with fidelity issues and addictions, associate minister Eric Greer said.
“We can provide evidence that our counseling ministry actually pays for itself in saved marriages,” Greer said. “This means families within our church stay together and continue to contribute.
“The comprehensive nature sends the message that we are a safe church,” he added. “Safety is vital to families in need because they don’t need to tell their story and experience judgment or apathy. That only wounds them more.”
At the Walled Lake Church of Christ in Michigan, leaders came to realize that a multigenerational approach to ministry made economic — and biblical — sense, minister and elder Roger Woods said.
On “Work for the Master Wednesdays,” the Detroit area church’s youth group helps with service projects for older members. The church’s chorus, which sings at special events, mixes members as young as 15 and as old as 88. Each month, the congregation enjoys combined “youth and family” devotionals.
“Our overriding plan is to keep the generations connected so that the older can mentor the younger and the younger can honor and encourage the older,” said Woods, whose church adopted “God’s Family” as its ministry theme for 2011.

At Northeast, the family-friendly approach means frequent Sunday night cookouts for children and parents, Tripp said. It means family retreats and scavenger hunts. It means “marriage mentoring” by older members.
It means a professional counseling program where members can receive help — confidentially — for addictions and other hang-ups.
“Strong families take a lot of hard work,” said Northeast member Jill Evans, wife of David and mother of Kaitlin, 17, and Will, 15.
The Northeast church provides a variety of Bible studies and activities to help build family bonds, she said.
David Evans and daughter Kaitlin traveled with a church group this past summer on a mission trip to Mexico.
The last two years, the entire family joined nearly 100 other Northeast members at the Winterfest youth rally in Gatlinburg, Tenn.
Posters at the church promote Lads to Leaders spiritual training events and Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, which teaches families how to overcome financial debt using biblical principles.
After a recent assembly, Northeast children and their parents helped transform church classrooms into temporary bedrooms for homeless people. Volunteering with the Room in the Inn ministry proved “eye-opening” for the children of members Jason and Laura Couch.
“Before we could even leave the building, they were asking when we could serve again,” said Jason Couch, father of Drew, 15; Tyler, 12; and Lindsey, 10.
The Couches said their children benefit from in-depth Bible study each Sunday.
“Every week our children interact with adults other than Mom and Dad who know they know love them and love God,” the father said. “Having godly people who hold our children accountable in addition to encouraging and supporting them is an incredible blessing.”

  • Feedback
    Just wondered if you might be related to the late Frank and Ethel Alcorn of Wilburton, OK. They were best friends of my mother and were members of the Wilburton Church of Christ.
    Carol Roundtree
    A Baptist church in NC
    Robbinsville, North Carolina
    December, 14 2010

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